A Powerful Look at the Hopes, Fears, and Bravery of Hong Kong Demonstrators: A Review of “Among the Braves”

by Brian Hioe

Photo credit: Studio Incendo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 DEED

AMONG THE BRAVES, by Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin, is a gripping, powerful narrative of the events surrounding the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

Following the work of the two journalists in covering the demonstrations, the book provides a very human look at the protests by zooming on a series of those involved in the demonstrations, as its protagonists. These include everyone from protest icon Joshua Wong to journalist and later political candidate Gwyneth Ho, Stand with Hong Kong co-founder Finn Lau, and “Tommy”—a member of the five Hong Kong activists who fled to Taiwan by speedboat and were held for months on a military base.

The book skillfully manages to weave together the disparate set of individuals caught up in the demonstrations. One of the strong points of the book is how the Among the Braves manages to avoid getting weighed down in the many details of the protests, while maintaining a clear and concise narrative that ties together the lives of its protagonists. Though all of those it focuses on are drawn up in the same, overarching set of events, they have very different perspectives and positionalities in the series of events.

To this extent, though focusing on the activists, among Mahtani and McLaughin’s strongest accomplishments as writers is interweaving both the actions of activists and the decision-making of Hong Kong official policymakers as responding to ongoing protest actions during the 2019 demonstrations. Mahtani and McLaughin point to where the Carrie Lam administration was often clouded in the hubris of its leader and missed many off-ramps to de-escalate. While taking an approach to depicting the protests that is less atmospheric than some of the other narratives that have been written to date, this is highly effective.

Book cover of Among the Braves

Likewise, Among the Braves reveals a number of important events that occurred during the 2019 Hong Kong protests that were previously not publicly known. This includes the fact that Joshua Wong sought asylum from the US, but that this was turned down due to concerns about provoking China geopolitically as well as the logistical difficulties of extracting him from Hong Kong. Wong seeking asylum from the US took place despite rhetoric from the Trump administration and aligned Republican politicians that were outwardly supportive of Hong Kong.

Among the Braves also sheds light on the conditions faced by the five Hongkongers who wound up in Taiwan and were confined to a military base. These five Hongkongers were denied even underwear during their confinement, with military personnel treating them as unwelcome guests, even as prisoners. It took escape attempts for the Hongkongers to try and win reprieve for their conditions, before their eventual resettling in the US.

Most of all, however, Among the Braves delves into the motivations of its main characters with a great degree of introspection. Among the Braves goes to show the extreme sacrifices that Hong Kong activists made for their home, as well as their heroism. One comes away from the book feeling as though one personally knows many of the profiled activists, at least a little bit.

Among the Braves is another strong entry in the litany of books written on the Hong Kong protests to date, then. Yet the book is worth reading not only for what it discloses about the Hong Kong protests that were not previously known, but look at the motivations, anxieties, and hopes of those who took such risks for their home.